NORTH RUSTICO, P.E.I. - A P.E.I. single mother says the system is stacked against her in her bid to find independence for herself and her son.
Nikki Matheson is 26.
Her eyes look a little tired, but there is still some hope in her smile as she sits in the living room of her mother’s bungalow.
Her two-year-old boy, Henry, who has blonde hair and bright blue eyes, is energetic and sociable. He leaps off of Matheson down onto the floor, making a dinosaur roar as she speaks.
“I feel like I have exhausted all my options,” said Matheson, who has encountered roadblock after roadblock in her search for housing and employment.
The vacancy rate in Charlottetown is currently less than one per cent, according to data from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. And even when Matheson, who is expecting her second child in September, did reach a landlord, she faced more problems.
“No one would rent to me as soon as I mentioned I was on social assistance.”
Matheson said she feels there is stigma to being on social assistance on P.E.I., even within the organization itself.
“They are supposed to help, and they put you in a box that is so hard to get out of.”
Matheson said on one occasion she sat nursing her son in the social assistance waiting room for 12 hours in hopes someone would help her find housing. No one could help because she wasn’t officially homeless and still the option to move to her mother’s home.
However, she wanted to be self-sufficient.
“I just needed a little help,” said Matheson who eventually moved herself and her two-year-old son to her mother’s home and started looking for a job in North Rustico.
“I feel like I have exhausted all my options.”
When Matheson caught a break finding a job, the next roadblock was child care. Her son spends 50 per cent of his time with his father, which gave her a chance to hunt for a job. However, the daycares in the area are at capacity; the waiting list is about a year long.
“I tried in-home daycares, and no one has any spots available till the fall,” Matheson said.
Finally, it seemed, some good news. Matheson landed a job. However, it didn’t go as expected when she arrived at the job five months’ pregnant. She finished a whole day of work, but the employer thought the labour would be too intense.
“I don’t think they understood. This is the only job I could find for months.”
She was cautious when looking for employment, she even checked with her doctor about what she could and couldn't do.
“My family doctor said I was fine to work. They said it would help with my mental health as well.”
At this point, she just wants to make enough to live on before her second child arrives in September.
“If I started working tomorrow and worked every day I wouldn’t have the hours for maternity leave,” she said.
Matheson hopes changes announced last week for social assistance — like not counting child support payments as income — help her situation. Otherwise, she doesn’t know what her next step will be.
“I don’t want to be an unemployed mother . . . while my next kid grows up.”